Friday, May 4, 2007

Power and Empowerment: Charm School

The topic of power and empowerment is one that gets thrown around a lot when analyzing a patriarchal society. The lesser eminent threat to the empowerment of women is the woman who embraces oppression, who encourages other women to conform to the accepted norms of society. Women in this context would be Ann Coulter, Condoleeza Rice, and Phyllis Schlafly. As a member of the TCNJ community, the College Republicans graced us all with the honor of getting to meet Mrs. Schlafly. Schlafly has made a name for herself through quotes such as “sexual harassment is not a problem virtuous women,” and “ERA means abortion funding, means homosexual privileges, means whatever else.” She started her lecture at the College by commending the students for the rally at the State House the next day to demand lower tuition and giving her own advice “to lower costs, I’d suggest first cutting the Women and Genders Studies Program.” She also implied that the Virginia Tech shootings were a result of Cho’s requirement to take a Gender studies course.

In an attempt to show utter disregard for Schlafly’s hateful politics, over 65 students who attended the event decided against attempting to debate Schlafly through the question and answer period. Instead, and especially after her hateful comments to start the program, the mass group of students all dressed in black and wearing pink “ERA” bands around their arms (“they must be in mourning for their failed ERA”) stood, and silently filed outside of the room. Later, students used the popular networking site Facebook as a battleground to discuss the actions. One student wrote of the walkout, “The problem with asking Schlafly questions is that her belief in what she's preaching is absolute. The activists knew she would respond to any questions asked with answers founded on sexist, racist, and anti-gay sentiments. By filing out, the activists demonstrated Schlafly's irrelevance, not their own. Would you tell the BSU [Black Student Union] to ask a Klansman questions?” To this, another student replied, “Well, I think a more apt analogy would be with a black Klansmen…” Believe it or not, this is where the line can be drawn to the Flavor of Love spin-off “Charm School.” Why is it that in the case of women’s rights, more women seem to be embracing the patriarchy and debasing feminist ideals? Why are women like Schlafly using ideals of homemaker mothers to propel themselves into positions of power that are completely the opposite of the lifestyle they commend?

The show “Charm School is the latest in Flavor Flav’s attempt to conquer VH1, and almost immediately after it finishes, the network will launch “I Love New York 2.” The basis of the show is that comedian and Mo’Nique, who also hosted “Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance” a beauty pageant for plus size women, watched the seasons of Flavor of Love and was simply so embarrassed at the completely unfeminine actions of the women that she wants to teach them the art of etiquette. The first action held by Mo’Nique was to rid the girls of the “ridiculous names” that Flav had assigned them with, a seemingly counter-hegemonic move to shed the women of the power Flav held over them in the show. However, soon into the show, one can see that the goal of the show is quite the opposite. The women are told that they are too loud, too boisterous, outspoken, and unfeminine. The women are given “Ten Commandments:”
1. Check thyself before thou wreck thyself
2. Thou shalt goeth, girl
3. Thou shalt show some class
4. Thou shalt work what thou art working with
5. Thou shalt spit mad game with style
6. Thou shalt mind thy money
7. Thou shalt payeth it back
8. Thou shat represent
9. Unless thou can play, thou wilt be played
10. Thou shall be fully fabulous
The girls who had proved themselves to be embarrassing enough to be worthy to compete to win $50,000 for exhibiting the most change were chosen for reasons holding mostly to fighting with other girls, emotional outbursts, “crazy behavior” (“Hottie” whom insulted Flav’s mother by not presenting her with an acceptable meal), “hating on” the other contestants, slovenly table manners, and one contestant, Becky “Buckwild” for being the “blackest white girl.”

The first episode was a test in “sisterhood and teamwork” that resulted in the girls working together to complete an obstacle course, in which the losing team was to face the elimination of one member at a ceremony that required them all to be dressed as schoolgirls. The basis for judgment however, went to the fastest team, not the team that worked together to help their one member Darra (formerly “Like Dat”) who was not as physically capable of the challenge as the other girls. For her physical “shortcomings,” Darra was threatened with elimination. Being a full-bodied woman herself and writing a book called “Skinny Women are Evil,” Mo’Nique blatantly seems to attack Darra, at this point in the show, and in the third episode for representing her team as a model to showcase their ability to stylize effectively. Mo’Nique felt that Darra thought that she would gain points simply for being a bigger woman, a continuing theme of alienating Darra from the other girls based solely on her weight.

The second episode put the former Bachelor Andrew Firestone in power over the women. In his task of choosing women to bring to dinner, and an ultimate winner to accompany him to an event, he eliminated women based on being “bad dressers,” or “too talkative.” It seems that rather than to shed the hegemonic attitudes shoved down these women’s throats in Flavor of Love, the point of the show is actually to provide a variety of individuals into the seat of power that Flav formerly held to tell the women what is wrong with their looks, dress, actions, etc and what they must conform to in order to win.

Notably in the stream of men and women in control of the contestants is former contestant New York, now the star of a second season of the spin-off I Love New York. Many of the women have been brought to Charm School simply because of their interactions with New York that involved screaming matches, physical fights, and in one instance, saliva emissions. New York has made a name for herself in her unapologetic actions, her willingness to use any means necessary to destroy her competitors, and her bawdy language and attitude. However, New York is not a contestant on the show. It is her job to coach the women on their femininity (or lack thereof), a job she has been given before in the second season of Flavor of Love. Why is New York, who holds more things in common than not with the contestants, given the ability to degrade the women for actions that she herself emits? Through her outrageous actions on seasons one and two of Flavor of Love, New York was given D-List celebrity status and handed her own TV show… twice.

To analyze the hegemonic norms of gender and those who are given power or left powerless, one must look at those “exceptions to the rule” and wonder what brings them such success. Perhaps the patriarchal society will blindly accept with open arms those who will so vehemently champion gender norms. Phyllis Schlafly’s absolute disgust for the idea of an Equal Rights Amendment, though more political than popular culture can easily be compared to New York’s disdain for outspoken women. If only Schlafly knew she was a sister in spirit with twice runner-up Flavor of Love contestant, New York; I’m sure she’d find new appreciation for Women and Genders Studies.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Blog Buddy Work with Jen M author of "A Blurred Reality"

Where has your Blog buddy shown strong analytical work (be specific—is it a particular post, a type of analysis, a site for analysis that seemed to click more so than others, etc)?

How could your Blog buddy use this strength for the final Blog post and presentation?

Think about the following statements in relation to your Blog buddy’s Blog and then provide feedback on each area (constructive praise/criticism):

The Blog is on a topic that has been clearly evident in the Blog posts throughout the semester

The Blog is on a topic that seems to interest my Blog buddy

My Blog buddy’s topic is one that has produced a good set of posts that were analytical used gender as a primary category of analysis

The posts make analytical arguments. The posts are understandable and each post logically outlines and supports the argument presented. The posts were clear, provided insight, evidence, and analysis to connect the topic with the assignment for each of the posts

The sources cited in each post are relevant to the topic and help to aid the understanding of the argument and/or assisted in proving the argument.

The quotes used illustrate a broad range of course readings throughout the semester.

The quotes were clear and succinct; additionally, the material was presented so that I could differentiate the Blog buddy’s ideas from that of the author cited.

Finally, complete the following:

I thought it was great when you...

I found it confusing when you…

You’re really great at…

I wish you could focus (more) on/alter/edit/explain/expand on/etc these three things…

(Basically, when you read the Blog posts, what do you wish your buddy had done differently, more of, etc?)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Flavor Flav in the News

Within the nuclear family, there is a father, mother, and children living together in the blissful neighborhoods of the suburbs. The father acts as the chief breadwinner, and head of the family; he is worldlier than his female counterpart, more involved in serious matters while she is happy to spend her days caring for the children and running the household. The pantry is her office, the apron her power suit, and the vacuum her briefcase. Unfortunately for Americana ideals, there are very few families that fit the mold described above, so why, then, is it that the gendered roles of “mother” and “father” are so religiously adhered to in pop culture?

To remain on par with this topic of the reality show “Flavor of Love” and said spin-offs, soon after Deelishis was “grilled” winner, Flav’s manager Clifton Johnson announced that in between seasons one and two of his hit reality TV show, Flav had managed to impregnate an anonymous on again off again girlfriend. This child, born unceremoniously in January resulting in not a single news article, was his seventh. The author is unsure how many mothers the children belong to. In analyzing this article in the concept of gender, one must take note that Deelishis is “standing by her man.” If the situation had been reversed, and Deelishis had found herself pregnant by a former lover after entering the competition, would she have been as triumphant a competitor? In a society where it’s acceptable for a man to leave his family in pursuit of fame, Flavor Flav’s sexual transgressions are barely noteworthy.

Children define a woman, for a man, however, definition comes through accomplishment and persona. Fatherhood is not something celebrated or attacked; it’s just a side note. The mother, however, is solely responsible for being the caretaker of her children, women on reality television are penalized for leaving their children, whereas men aren’t even asked the question. In "Moms Don't Rock: The Popular Demonization of Courtney Love," attention is drawn to attacks on Courtney Love for her drug habits, with little mention of her husband’s addiction that played such a key roll in his suicide. Any psychologist would tell you that a parent's suicide would be a defining, damaging event to any child, no matter what age. But it’s not the father that Barbara Walters is concerned about, so let’s hope Flavor Flav isn’t holding his breath waiting for her call.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

kitten calander

do you have love for...

Coming directly out of Pop Culture from rap group Public Enemy, Flavor Flav became the icon he is through VH1's show the Surreal Life. After his failed relationship with Brigette Nielson he decided to use his Celebreality status to find the love of his life. Thus Flavor of Love was born. The set-up of the show is not too much different from other Bachelor-esque reality shows, the only primary difference being that the majority of the contestants and the leading man are black. This race factor is not to be taken lightly, as VH1 plays off the show as the image of a hip hop lifestyle. Flav, a 48 year old man, is living in a completely loaded mansion, with 20 young girls clamoring after his affections.

The gender roles in the show are strictly fitting to the standard binary of women as subservient and devoted to their man, Flav, who is in the position of power over their actions. The ladies, however, when alone with each other, are shown as bickering, attacking, and backstabbing. In the context of the show as a comment on society, the obvious power given to the male character of the women, a hegemonic norm in today's world. Another example would be the sexual undertones in the gender roles. For example, the acceptance of Flavor Flav's polygamous relationship with the women in his house, yet the disapproval of Season 2's Nibblz sexual openness, reflects society's disapproval of female sexuality but regularly writes off male sexuality with a "boys will be boys" attitude.

On the flip side of hegemonic norms in the show, I Love New York, where twice cast aside Tiffany Patterson, is set up with her own show to find love. New York is now put into the position of power surrounded by men for her to control. New York gets the chance to "act like a boy" without fear of judgement or disapproval she defies the gender norms set into place with Flavor of Love. One must keep in mind that Flavor Flav remains seated in the position of power in the business sense, as executive producer of the show, and is creating his own reality empire using the girls that he "eliminated" from the competition over his affections. With "I Love New York" ending on Monday, April 2nd, Flav is jumping into the emptying spot in the nation's TV schedule with "Flavor Flav's Charm School for Girls" where several of the former members of the show are competing to become the most ladylike. The areas for analysis of a man never seen without his grill on sending away women to learn etiquette are almost too glaring to be taken seriously.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


My collage is based on the article "The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies in the Media" which claims that no character played by a person of color is accurately portrayed, rather they are playing the “clown… putting on a show for the Others.” To clearly portray my point, I used pictures of Flav dressed in his flashy costumes juxtaposed with racist cartoons and Jim Crow images from post Civil War propaganda. He, of course, is at the center of the collage, surrounded by his women, whom I juxtaposed against images of the "Hottentot Venus", Sarah Baartman, who was paraded around Europe during the mid-1800s as a way to display the "hyper sexuality" of the "Other." The other images dispersed among pictures of the former contestants are from "Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarfs" a racist cartoon created by Merry Melodies and later banned. The theme of the women is one of hyper sexuality, Flav less than exudes erotica, but the women from the show are scarcely found more than scantily clad, focusing mostly on their posterior, much like the posing of the Hottentot Venus. Flav's job on the show is to act as the showman, the entertainer, while the women are forced into gender roles of battling each other to prove who is truly there "for their man, Flav."

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Dr. Susan Wood Comes to TCNJ

In a blog about Flavor of Love, a quick post referring to the former FDA official in charge of women's health may seem out of place. However, the constricts of the course that caused me to create this blog is that of the Women and Genders department here at TCNJ, and a big part of the discipline within the school is analyzing why this nation continues to put personal politics over safety and health of women. Susan Wood's presentation was entitled "Plan B: Politics or Science?"

Basically Wood described the details of her job at the FDA focusing on women's health issues (Contraception, pregnancy, etc) as well as diseases that affect women differently (lupus, breast cancer, etc). She told the history of Women's Health in her view of 3 separate phases: Progressive Ladies & Transitional Advocates, Militant Action (Grassroots Campaign), and Professional Advocates.

The 1st phase included such advocates as Mary Lasler, Terese Lasser, Doris Haire, and my personal favorite (as secretary for Vox: Voices for Planned Parenthood on this campus) Margaret Sanger. Health became an issue for women within the constricts of reproductive rights, the place where women's health differs so much from men's, and major issues of this era were dangerous medications like Thalidomide, which caused intense birth defects, and DES, which caused a rare and serious vaginal cancer to women exposed in utero. The FDA began regulating women's health issues here and with the Daltkon Shield IUD in 1976.

The 2nd phase began with the creation of NOW as well as the book "Our Bodies, Ourselves" and the Senate Trials over the safety of the birth control pill that completely left women out of the deciding process. The outcomes of that trial were monumental by beginning the tradition of patient inserts for medications, rather than a patient needing to rely solely on their doctor to gain information about their medication. Pregnant women or women who could possibly become pregnant were, however, banned from medical trials during this period, an exclusion that created danger for women under the guise of helping them.

The 3rd phase encouraged women's participation in health studies and through the creation of groups like the Society for Women's Health Research created the Women's Health Equity Act, which began to give women more of a place in medical research.

The root of the presentation, Plan B, was a routine approval to make public and over-the-counter emergency contraception, which would help prevent unwanted pregnancy (not cause abortions). On the contrary, if Plan B is utilized effectively it can prevent the need to obtain an abortion because it is preventing the unwanted pregnancy to begin with. The bill was turned down due to the fact that young teens weren't a large enough sample in the testing process, an unprecedented denial clause. When years had passed since the drug should have been approved, Wood felt the need to resign her post because she couldn't work for an organization that valued politics over science. The drug was finally approved on August 24, 2006.

Wood drew a parallel to the current scandal with the HPV vaccine that people believe that by protecting women's health, as well as reproductive health, some members of the general public draw the conclusion that availability of these medications will promote promiscuity in young girls -- yeah, cause when I was under 16, the only thing stopping me from having sex was the fear of cervical cancer.

Basically, the point of the lecture was that religious, moral, ethical, etc ideals about teen sexuality should not have any baring when considering scientific fact that could create a healthier reproductive life for the women of this nation. This was the only medication proven safe to ever have this much of an opposition to being accepted. The constant revisions and roadblocks to bringing public a pill that's as simple to understand as birth control pills themselves are a sign of politics over science, and therefore politics over women's health and well being. A woman begins her reproductive life around the age of 13, that does not mean that she becomes sexually active at that point, nor will the presence of emergency contraception champion unsafe and promiscuous sexual activity. However, these girls who are deemed old enough by science over politics are robbed of a safety tool in their health. Susan Wood resigned in order to prove that to the nation, and (slowly) it seems to be getting the idea. The College was lucky to get such an impressive Key Note Speaker to kick off Women's History Month 2007.